What is mindfulness and how can it be used in ELT? #ELTchat Summary 10/10/2012

A PLN for ELT Professionals

What is mindfulness and how can it be used in ELT? #ELTchat Summary 10/10/2012

This summary was contributed by Philip Longwell  – @teacherphili – and is reposted here from his blog with his kind permission

“Yesterday is history

tomorrow is a mystery

but today is a gift.

That is why it is called

the present.”

Grand Master Oogway tells it like it could be, to Po.


On 10 October 2012, various minds came together to attend the second session of ELTchat of the day.  They were guided towards the subject of mindfulness.  It is something I only came across myself about 4 weeks ago and which I have been trying to practice in my own life since.  The actual topic suggested was ‘What is mindfulness and how can it be used in ELT’?  I had written about this topic a couple of weeks before and that post was used as a starting point.  The chat coincided with World Mental Health Day.


As I (@Teacherphili) had suggested the topic, it was down to me to ask a few questions and to supply a number of ‘quick and dirty’ (@Marisa_C) definitions.  In readiness, and somewhat against the ‘spirit of mindfulness’ (@elawassell), I prepared these in advance to copy and paste into TweetDeck! This can be seen in a speeded up segment below:

Q – What do YOU already think #mindfulness is? What does it mean to you? 

Is it a bit of living in the moment?’ said @SueAnnan.  ‘Focusing on noticing specific things, and not overthinking?‘ said @esolcourses, before adding ‘taking things at a slow and steady pace perhaps too, and not trying to throw too much information into the
‘.  ‘Presence of mind, attentiveness to the present … attentive awareness of the reality of things’ added @TheTeacherJames.   ‘Seeing what I do and knowing why I am doing it’, added @Wiktor_K.  ‘Mindfulness is a translation of a word that simply means awareness’, according to Prof M Williams, Oxford Uni, added @cgoodey, before saying that ‘it is being aware of what’s happening, as it’s happening, and not being distracted.’  @MarjorieRosenbe said she had only heard of it in business coaching, but didn’t expand on that.


@Teflerinha offered a number of ideas, initially stating ‘you’re responding to what is here and now, not what you planned to do … and not labelling students, because that’s also judging using past experience … living in the moment- which
means not bring past experience to bear in making judgements’. In addition, she , offered that ‘mindful eating is taking time to savour, smell and taste [the food] rather than gobbling it down!’  As someone who seemed passionate about the topic, @Teflerinha later stated that 
‘mindfulness in teaching is about responding as fully as possible to what the students are bringing at that moment.’



@Teacherphili offered a number of definitions, which overlapped with some given above: ‘It means paying attention on purpose to the things you are doing  … being aware … choosing to focus attention on something and experiencing things in the present …  and more fully … using any one or all of one’s senses. … It should be non-reactive, that is, not based on previous conditioning. … to respond to your experience rather react to thoughts’.  In addition, @teacherphili wanted to distinguish reaction and response:    ‘A reaction is automatic and gives you no choice, whereas a response is deliberate and considered action. 


Mindfulness  is not directly related to ELT.  It is a practice which stems from Buddhism.  It is employed in Western psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, such as anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.  It is meditative, but is not intended to be relaxing, although becoming relaxed might be a by-product of it.

@Wiktor_K postulated that ‘the opposite of mindfulness might be the teacher who teaches the lesson not the class’.   Mindful learning, he added, ‘would then make use of noticing, self-study, enjoying the langauge.’


@MarjorieRosenbe questioned the issue of labelling as something we should avoid in any case, to which @teflerinha agreed, before adding, ‘I think mindfuless is something we should strive for in any case.’ 


@Cgoodey was inclined to think that it is with her students that she is ‘most mindful, [but that there was work needed] in the rest of her life’.  



@Teacherphili asked, from what people knew about it so far, could mindfulness be used in ELT?  He wanted to propose that it could, but was it, as @SueAnnan was first to point out, just another name for something which is already done?  @ShaunWilden agreed, stating, ‘So basically what we’re saying here is here’s another term for what we already do!’  @SueAnnan pointed out that ‘perhaps not everyone is doing it- the ones who do the job and go home, don’t really care’, to which @ShaunWilden agreed but implored that ‘we don’t need another term for it,we’re overloaded with them as we are.’  


@Teflerinha doubted whether we did it consistently, while @TheTeacherJames added that it appeared to be deeper form of reflection and an antidote to the busyness of lessons.’  @tim_crangle agreed, adding, ‘isn’t mindfullness a lot more sophisticated than just silent reflection?’  @Stephenburrows stated, ‘I think there is a definite  place for learners to think “why am I here, what do I want” and being truthful.’   @tim_crangle was generally welcoming to this concept but posed the question, ‘if it is more sophisticated than simple reflection, is it a technique that TTs need to learn seriously’.   A very good point, considering that all practitioners of mindfulness say that it does, indeed, require practice.  It is not something that can just happen. It is very purposive, suggesting that a teacher would have to be very receptive to start with for this to take place.


@Lauraahaha was skeptical, fearing her late class students would find this time to drift off.  ‘5 silent mins at end of class to
‘reflect’ could be counter-productive’, she thought.
  She wondered if it was being mindful of their learning or other things? to which @teacherphili replied, ‘it [can be] focused activities, concentrating on present thing.’


@Teacherphili posted that it can ‘tap into experimenting with all your potential senses’, to which @ShaunWilden stated, ‘so does VAK, gustaotu, olfactory  – we’ve been there with learning styles’.  He then asked for specific activities that made mindfulness any different.     It is definitely not a learning style, according to @TheTeacherJames and @MarjorieRosenbe, ‘aside from sensory-based activities’.   The latter also wondered whether sensory awareness training with teachers would be mindfulness?


@TeacherPhili agreed, joking about it being a new term for something we already do, and offering to take ‘a vow of
  Joking aside, @esolcourse pointed out that ‘is not that far removed from Dogme’. Teachers, she added, ‘need to resist temptation to cram too much into lessons and allow for thinking time’.  @SueAnnan said she had observed teachers, earlier that day, who ‘forgot about the students’ and, therefore, were showing ‘mindlessness’.  @Marisa_C added that she had seen enough ‘unmindful lessons in [her] time.’




‘Silence’ appeared to be something that people picked up from the original blog post.  ‘Too much TTT (teacher talking time) could be countered by reflection time for students … I love the silent bit, so need to reflect.’ (@shaznosel).  ‘The Sound Of Silence’ activity, taken from Luke Meddings’ ‘Teaching Unplugged’ book was proposed by @teacherphili, ‘where students listen attentively, leading to personalised, emergent language.’  @Marisa_C stated that ‘one thing that may be DIFFERENT in activities like Sound of Silence from reflec/introspect on ur learning is it calls up emotions. … many Ts [are] afraid of silence and quickly rush to blot it out with TEACHER NOISE!!!!! ‘  @TheTeacherJames said, after reading the post, he ‘tried the Sound of Silence activity. Really interesting, created a different atmosphere.’   He pointed out that too many teachers like to fill silence with their own voice, adding ‘silence that is necessary between a question and answer.


Teachers often rush in too quickly. ‘The post seriously made him think about silence in the classroom, a fact not disputed by moderator, @ShaunWilden, ‘Having silent periods in the class is something alot of teachers avoid. I do agree that small periods to sit and
think are useful.’   @Cioccas highlighted a  TED Talk, by Julian Treasure, on conscious listening, silence and channels of sound.  


Halfway through the chat, @teacherphili proposed 5 minutes of silence to which some responded in the spirit of the topic: …. ‘…………………………….’ @Marisa_C, [    ] @Wiktor_K and ‘Ommmmmmmmmmm’ @stephenburrows.


On other specific activities, @teacherphili had a few suggestions, which he found from an article about teaching mindfulness to children.  He felt it was something that could be used with restless students or those who find difficulty in concentrating.   @naomishema believed that ‘when her adult learners aren’t active, [their] cell phones come out … [I] don’t see many reflecting on what they learned.’


Exercises using mindfulness could be carried out at the start or end of lessons, as warmers or coolers. @TheTeacherJames agreed with the ‘end of lesson reflection’ idea.  It might be only possible for the first 10 minutes, before getting on with the ‘real’ lesson, but could certainly be useful for grounding or centering students in the classroom.


The idea of concentrating on an object in the room was proposed. This might using existing objects or ‘realia’ brought in especially.  Ss could describe a ‘hidden’ object to a partner, who could then draw it.  Focus could be on small details which distinguish the object.  Another idea was that students could move around the room as softly as they can, as if walking on eggshells or a delicate glass floor.  Tell them to be aware of each & every movement they make.


One idea, liked by MarjorieRosenbe, was something called ‘thought bubbles’ – Students close eyes and imagine bubbles containing thoughts, feelings or perceptions, rising up. Watch it float up, then once it has reached the ceiling, describe these.


@Marisa_C found the idea of staying focused interesting and asked for more ideas.   She suggested ‘activities with music without
words might do [the] same … Students imagine characters, situations, stories’, before coming up with a new publication idea… ‘
Zen and The Art of ELT.’  A quick search soon uncovered such an idea already exists – see here– even if it is for general teaching.MarjorieRosenbe mentioned music when she used to do suggestopedia, ‘Baroque music at end put them out.’  @Lauraahaha said this would definitely switch her off.

It appeared to some that mindful practice might only work in certain situations, and only understood in some cultural contexts.  Some were skeptical that there is a place for it in the ELT classroom, while others thought there were some positive benefits which could be taken from a maximum of 5-10 minutes per lesson spent on purposeful thinking.


@Wiktor_K and @cioccas were concerned by reducing a big philosophical/religious concept to a set of classroom tips.  @teacherphili agreed, but just wanted it discussed nonetheless.  It is true, that effective mindfulness takes practice and is, possibly, best demontrated by Buddhist monks.  The ideas presented were removed from the religion and made to work in settings (ie classrooms) that are most responsive to the purposeful thought actions proposed.  As @Wiktor_K acknowledged, there were awesome tips discussed, which would get the class ‘back on track’.  This is where it could be most beneficial, it seemed.  Not necessarily as a learning aim, but more as a technique used for classroom management.  @TheTeacherJames asked, ‘What’s wrong with being influenced by big ideas? Why do we have to be shallow in our ambitions?’ to which @cioccas offered that ‘those on this # are anything but shallow in their ambitions.’


An analogy was made with driving.    Once we become competent at something, like driving, we don’t need to consciously think about the act (@esolcourses).  We often arrive at our destination not knowing how we got there, in reality.  A mindful drive would involve being aware of the traffic, the scenery, the signs.   Some tips concerning driving specifically state counting the number of seconds it takes for a red light to change to green.    Just as we can get into a state of being autopilot when driving, so too can get like that in teaching, it would seem.  @stephenburrows thought this was a great analogy.


@cgoodey pointed out at the end that mindfulness definitely seems to be something worth finding out more about, not just for the classroom, but for personal benefits.  @shaznosel agreed that it is very difficult to stop and reflect as ‘most teachers [operate] on turbo speed’.


In conclusion it was an appropriately focused discussion on mindfulness, with many positive and welcome reminders for teachers who, to some extent, are already mindful of their classes.  Many were curious to know what it is and what relevance it could have to ELT.   Some ‘awesome’ ideas were highlighted, with a few tips picked up, especially on the issue of what can be done with ‘silence’.  There were some cynical positions taken, but this mostly revolved around the idea that ‘mindfulness’ was being proposed as a learning style or methodology, rather than something that could be drawn on as and when needed, in the right setting.  It is certainly true, as @cgoodey stated, that the classroom is often the most mindful experience of the working day for many teachers.  It is often the most aware teachers are on any given day and that if it is of any use, it could be for personal satisfaction, away from teaching.  For those that (purposefully) thought there was a little more to this, then there is plenty of reading and videos out there on the topic.  On the issue of teaching children, there is a link below on an article, whilst on the issue of personal health and well-being, I recommend ‘Mindfulness for Dummies’ by Shamash Alidina, or anything by Jon Kabatt-Zinn.


The chat participants




About the Author

@Teacherphili is Phil Longwell. He is about to graduate from The University of Warwick with an MA in ELT and begin work at Eastern International University in Vietnam.  He has previously volunteered as a teacher in Tanzania and worked in Changwon (South Korea), Beijing, Cambridge (UK) and Riyadh (Saudi Arabia).  He likes cooking, swimming, making movies and has just taken up yoga and mindfulness practice.  This is his second summary for #ELTchat.

2 Responses

  1. Fantastic summary, Phil.

  2. Montserrat Oliva says:

    I´m very interested in this topic and would like to know if there are any courses out there about the use of mindfulness in ELT. Thank you!

Comments are closed.